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What is the difference between a physiotherapist, an osteopath and a chiropractor?

Chiropractor vs physiotherapist vs osteopath

We’ve been asked this so many times that we decided to write a blog post about it. The answer will differ depending on who you're asking and the difference between these 3 professions will depend on a few different things: when the health practitioner was trained, where the education was done and what specialties they have done over the years.

Difference between a physiotherapist, and osteopath and a chiropractor.
Physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor.

Education has changed dramatically since the start of these professions. Some 'kind of physiotherapy' has been around for over 2000 years, although it's only been used more widely since a bit less than a decade. Osteopathy and Chiropractic treatments have been around since the late 1800's. Education is obviously always changing and the quality has increased significantly in the last 20 to 30 years. Until about 30 years ago, most physiotherapy treatments comprised only massage, cold or heat application and some basic exercises. Nowadays, the specialties are endless and many health practitioners will have a more thorough understanding of the movement system than many general practitioners.

Different countries also have different qualities of education and can have a different approach. While some countries and universities focus more on exercise based treatment and give a basic hands on understanding, others will dive deeper in the hands on treatment and will give a more specific knowledge and clinical reasoning.

The biggest variable in what makes a health practitioner better and more unique in my opinion, is the amount of courses or specialties he or she has done over the years. The amount of experience will definitely impact the quality of the treatments, however, the amount of clinical reasoning yielded either through courses, reading articles or discussing with colleagues will determine the value of a practitioner. The most common and widely known idea of a chiropractor is someone who will only 'crack the spine'. While that can be correct, some may do a wide range of subtle techniques and maybe never do adjustments. The same can be said with osteopaths.

A general answer to the above question (the difference between a physiotherapist and an osteopath or a chiro) would be: Osteopaths and chiro’s don't focus on rehabilitation (you wouldn't have osteopathy treatment if you sprained your ankle or when you return to sports after an ACL (knee ligament) surgery. They will, in general, focus more on the joints than mainstream physiotherapists.

The majority of European trained osteopaths will include techniques on the skull and on the viscera, which makes them stand out from physiotherapists. Adjustments (cracking or clicking of the joints, most common in the spine), which most chiropractors are famous for, will also be done by them.

To make it even more confusing: some physiotherapists do these adjustments as well. In Australia, most physiotherapists will do less manual work than the other 2 mentioned health practitioners, and will focus more on exercise based rehab.

So which one is better? All three professions manage pain and stiffness in the body, but they try to achieve the same goals via different approaches. These days, you can't generalise and talk about A physio or A chiro. It really depends on the person and the experience / education / specialties they have done.

At Physio K, we have practitioners from different backgrounds. We use an evidence-based approach and will combine hands-on treatment with specific exercises to get you back to doing what you love.


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